Friday, September 25, 2015

How About a Little Respect for The Genius of Volkswagen?

So what if they found a way to work around the ridiculous American emissions standards?

VW is known for quality, tightly-screwed-together vehicles. They are known for engineering. They are known for their very German-ness. It's the poor man's BMW.

I drive a Jetta. Not a diesel Jetta like the ones the carmaker toyed with in their genius way. Mine is a 5-speed, stripped down, doesn't-even-have-cruise-control, smallest engine available, black Jetta. It is as German as it can be in its functional-ness. It gets me to work and back. In a sporting way. It has no guts on the takeoff, but at cruising speed I can downshift and gain some torque. It's a fun drive. It's a VW. Tight. The doors go, "shunhk" when you close them. It's what I expected from a VW.

So you're in the VW labs in Germany and you've built this very fine, tight, fast, efficient vehicle and along comes an email from the U.S. EPA that says, "You have to meet these requirements when it comes to emissions." You gather with your fellow engineers and you play around. You find that to meet these requirements your car will sacrifice something in the area that you stake your reputation on. Maybe it's fuel efficiency. Maybe it's power. I don't know. I'm not an engineer. But something made these engineers say, "Screw you, America. Here's what we're gonna do..."

So they rig the cars to pass the tests through software! Brilliant! They pass the stupid American tests and still get the car they wanted to build. THAT'S what I expect from Germany. Ingenuity, albeit in a dark and underhanded way. Still, sheer genius.

Makes me even prouder to own a VW.  

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm Not a Copywriter, But...

I hear that once a day from account people. At least once a day.

Truth is, everyone thinks they're a copywriter - and truthfully - everyone is in some way. People know what works. They know what works for them, anyway. They know what commercials grab them or what billboard catches their eye, what banner makes them click. I like to think I know what works for everyone. Because I'm an arrogant copywriter. It's my job. But when an account person says to me, "I'm not a copywriter, but..." I try to listen with an open mind.  

Still, simple words trip me up. Like barely and hardly. When is something barely doable and when is something hardly doable. Does barely mean it can be done, but only by the skin of its teeth? Does hardly mean it can't be done, ever? So, is hardly a word used in sarcasm? I hurt my brain with these exercises. I can't think about it too much and just take every case situationally. Situationally is not even a word. It sure should be.

Think of the word maybe. According to Jack Johnson, maybe pretty much always means no. According to a child, maybe means we will absolutely get you that thing you want. Maybe is basically the same as I promise.

Probably, on the other hand, is like maybe towing a yes trailer.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Amber Waves of Median Grass

On a recent road trip halfway across this vast nation, I was struck, as I always am, by the sheer emptiness of much of the country. We have huge uninhabited forests and expansive meadows; miles of desert and endless mountain ranges.

I understand that much of it is privately owned. Much of it, however, is owned by the federal government.

Now of course all I'm seeing on my road trip is the Interstate and the mostly private lands that border it. Here is the Interstate system:

It covers 47,856 miles. Most of those miles have a grassy, very pretty median in the middle, all of it federally owned. (By the way, that "fact" about every fifth mile of the Interstate needing to be flat and straight so as to be used as an airstrip in times of war? False. I was guilty of spreading that one for years.)

All of that was a set-up for a very simple (stupid) solution to the world's refugee problem. We could fit every single refugee - from every single country - into our medians. Give them tents from Walmart or affordable storage sheds from Lowe's. Power and water exist along most of the routes. Little refugee villages all across the nation, reminding us of where we all came from and how we all got here.

What would we feed them? Oh, I about the leftovers from the countless Cracker Barrel restaurants scattered along the Interstates? Or the 40% of the food we waste in this country. 

Of course it'll never happen. But next time I'm watching hoards of beleaguered families wandering down dusty paths toward the hope of a better life, I'm remembering those vast swaths of emptiness, those dumpsters full of food and my own good life.   


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Friday, September 11, 2015

It's Huuuuuuuge!

There's a small amusement park here in Orlando called Fun Spot. It's family owned and operated. This goateed gent is the Chief Operating Officer, John Arie, Jr. He's the son of the founder, John Arie, Sr. Junior appears in virtually all the ads for this place. On TV, he can be heard exclaiming the park's tagline, which I'm sure he invented, "It's HUUUUUGE!" Here are some more pictures of Junior for you.

Everything about Fun Spot says "family-owned." From the quality of the advertising to the smallness of the rides and attractions within the park, this is not why people come to Orlando. But they're here and Junior is going to grab them. What I like about Junior is his savvy. 

On long stretches of the toll roads leading from Orlando International Airport to Interstate 4, every other billboard is for Fun Spot. You'll see a couple for Disney, a few for Universal, but John has made his little park look like a major player. He knows people are maybe spending half a day at his place, and only if they happen to be staying on International Drive, where he is located. But the kids in the back seats are seeing his ads and saying, "That place looks fun, Dad!" And Dad says, "Maybe," which to a kid is as good as, "You bet! We'll be doing Fun Spot, kiddies!"

Fun Spot is not huge. It's relatively tiny. But Junior understands advertising. Say it over and over again and say it in as many places as you can afford to and you'll get business. Never mind that once they get there they'll realize it's a small step up from the type of traveling carnival you'd find in the parking lot of the K-Mart in Springfield, Missouri. It's still a fun spot.

One of my favorite Fun Spot billboards is up right now just outside of Universal. (Junior understands placement.) I'm almost positive the photo shoot was directed by Junior. It features two girls on Fun Spot's small, not-so-thrilling roller coaster. The girl on the left is being honest, "This is a fun little roller coaster. Weeeeeee!" The girl on the right is losing it, utterly terrified by the sheer velocity, harrowing turns and potential death that awaits. But not so terrified that she can't raise her arms in gleeful abandon.

That's advertrising.

Well played, Junior.  

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Best or Nothing

I'm on record as absolutely hating Jon Hamm as the voice of Mercedes-Benz. He's awful. He sounds like a guy pretending to be a pitchman. His insincerity fills your ears in a way that makes you want to take a sledgehammer to Jon Hamm's Mercedes.

But let's look beyond the awfulness of Jon Hamm to the awfulness of the Mercedes campaign.


Now I get that Mercedes is trying to position that statement as, "We will settle for nothing less than the best car we can build. We will not sacrifice quality or safety. We will build the best car on the road." To put it another way, "If you are asking for the best, it is Mercedes," or "If you would only settle for the best, you would only settle for a Mercedes." But the statement is two-fold, and Mercedes deliberately put it out there that way.

If I can't have a Mercedes, I'll take the bus. Or I'll walk. Or I'll ride my bike. I must have a Mercedes.

No way.
OK, OK, I'll get you the Maserati.
NO! NO! NO! It's Mercedes - or NOTHING!.

Bridgestone Tires does this same thing. "It's Bridgestone or Nothing."

Really? You'd rather have no tires on your car if you can't have Bridgstone Tires?

May I say something here? You're an idiot.

Selling a luxury brand is not that hard. You don't need to resort to such childish declarations. Exclusivity is one thing, over-the-top hyperbole another thing entirely. This is lazy.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

That's How You Sell Coffee

Back in the old days, Hills Bros Coffee used this sleepy old Ethiopian man in a nightgown to sell coffee. He's shuffling through the kitchen, guzzling his coffee with abandon, praying to his God that the waking powers of the ground beans will jolt his old ass up out of his stupor. It's not working.

Turns out, however, he's not just trying to wake up. He's a connoisseur. He's known as "The Taster."

A young artist named Briggs offers to create a company trademark. His design, the ‘taster’, inspired by the coffee’s Ethiopian origin, is welcomed by Austin and R.W. A life-size statue is still present at the Hills Bros. San Francisco building.

A white Ethiopian. OK. That's what you get in 1906, I guess. Not sure when Hills Bros. ditched Sleepy Grandpa, but he's left the scene in favor of font-only packaging.

But moving forward...

Now that the Keurig system has taken over the world, putting all other home brew systems virtually out of business (and completely shutting down the very fine Senseo brand, which made a better cup than Keurig as far as I was concerned) we have more than enough options as far as brand and flavor.  Yes, Hills Bros. is still in the game, along with perennial players Folger's and Maxwell House, but I'm sure they're all lagging far behind Keurig's own brand, Green Mountain, makers of Dark Magic, Donut Shop and probably whatever you have in your kitchen. Starbucks has a nice chunk of the market, no doubt, but I say make way for some old players in youthed-up packaging.

Enter these kids selling Cafe Bustelo, a very rich, old Spanish/Puerto Rican/Cuban blend (a long story - check their website for the history). It's pretty much an espresso roast available in K-cups. It packs a mean morning punch, as evidenced by their ultra-caffeinated feats of acrobatic daring, gravity-defying gyrations and crazy smiles. These kids are JACKED.

Various incarnations of these young Latin coffee addicts appear on the packaging of Cafe Bustelo K-cups. Look for them at your grocer's.

I was not paid for this endorsement. But I should've been.  

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Google Has a New Logo!

And New Zealand is getting a new flag.

Google. Always fixing what isn't broken and making it worse.

Take Maps for instance. Worked great before. Until they updated it, slowed it down and made it stupid. They give you the option to revert to old maps, but before they'll take you there, they want to know WHY you're reverting to the old maps. Because the new maps sucks and slows everything down and is stupid?

Maybe I'm not the guy to ask, since I use XP Pro at home (and Photoshop 7). Why? Because they work just fine.

Lately, I can't access the templates of some of my blogs hosted on Google's Blogger platform because...well...because THEY UPDATED IT AND NOW IT DOESN'T WORK ANYMORE.

"Refresh the page," they tell me. Good god, man! Is that your solution? "Turn it off and turn it back on again," is what techs tell end-users when they don't want to figure it out.

Here, Google: I refreshed. And I get a whole new error code every time! You guys are starting to suck.

You know, Google, I've been loyal to your stuff from WAY back, but I might be about done.

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This morning as I walked the circle clockwise and the school bus picking up high-schoolers drove it counter-clockwise, we passed twice. Both times I walked as close as I could to the bus in the predawn light and immediately stepped into its wake as it passed.

That bright yellow blur in the early hours is a nostalgic send-off for anyone who grew up in America. I wanted to feel the wind, smell the diesel and see if maybe I could find exactly what it is and where we go when we see the school bus. I didn't really. Nostalgia is never so exact. By nature it's vague.

Maybe it's just the notion of Autumn creeping in, and September signals that, that sends us to a place in our memories that we imagine as innocent. It's never January you think of when you see a school bus, or God forbid, February. And while I can't think of a particular place or a specific time that school buses call up for me, in my mind there's a slight chill in the air and a sense that the day ahead holds promise. It's vague.

But today's high will be 91 and summer isn't over in Florida until November.

I'm not complaining. The day still holds promise.   

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